The exact term “Digital Citizenship” is a new term for me. As I learn more about what it means, I believe that it is an important concept and one that everyone should be more familiar with. As I unpack what digital citizenship means today, I define it as a way to be mindful of what is published online in the many social media sites as well as what shows up in emails to friends, family, cohorts, and students.
Just as one is a citizen of a town, state, or country and has interactions with others from day to day, people are a citizen of the internet. In the case of the internet, things can go around the world in minutes or hours. I see a problem on the internet and it is not a new one. People who interact within the internet on sites and blogs are much more removed from the audience than if they were to walk down the street and talk to people face to face. This lack of face to face interaction leads to a higher feeling of protection that is not present in personal contact. This false sense of security leads many to do and say things that they wouldnʼt in person.
This digital shield that many hide behind can be detrimental to teachers, students, and administrators in the school system. Many have been suspended, fired, or sued for material and interactions they have been posted online. Internet manners and digital citizenship are important to be aware of and to be more familiar with so that we can all be good citizens of the digital world. Schools have policies about online and digital use they have not had to deal with before. It is all a fairly new and moving target to hit.
The Juneau School District Student Safety and Internet Conduct policy lays out six pages of rules and regulations to teachers, students, and parent about how to not get in trouble when it comes to the internet, phones, emails, and other digital tools and media. I understand that this is necessary for the school district to have in place for legal reasons but I wonder how many students were involved in the development of this document. A professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, Dr. Jason Ohler produced a compelling video (https://youtu.be/jlxS2Blb2Cg) that argued that students should be involved in making the rules regarding digital technology use in and out of school. Ohler points out that students are far less likely to break the rules that theyʼve been a part of making than if a group of adults were the only ones making them up. Students are smart and more in-tune with what's happening online than most adults. It is also partially their fate that is being decided and because of that, students deserve to be included in the planning process. At the end of the day, the policy is there to protect students and teachers. Therefore, as a new teacher, I would like it to be complete, adequate, and fair. I will error on the side of caution when it comes to my interactions online with students.
I recently watched a news clip of a teacher who was forced to resign based on photos and comments that were on her Facebook page. From my perspective, there was not anything terribly bad about the photos were not bad enough to warrant her termination. I have heard from many teachers that they do not “friend” any student on facebook while they are still in school. I will follow this strategy to be a good digital citizen to my students, their families, the school. There are sites that I do use with students for work assignments which are separate from personal social media sites.
One should be more aware of the consequences of their Digital Citizenship footprint- the trail we leave whenever we go somewhere online. If we all slowed down a little and had more face to face interactions we might realize that on the other end of the computer, phone, tablet, or other digital devices, there is a human and a neighbor.